Posted by: smstrouse | May 17, 2014

What Do We Do with “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”?

imagesIf you’re looking for a simple answer to this question, you’re going to be disappointed. However, I can give some advice on how to work with it.

This verse has come up every time I’ve worked with Christian groups on interfaith matters. Sometimes it’s quoted as a rationale for an exclusivist position: Jesus is the only way. Mostly though, it’s raised as a concern: I want to respect my neighbors of other faiths but I don’t know how to reconcile that with what the Bible says.

However it’s presented, my advice is to take the question and the questioner seriously. This is a faith issue, and while you may have moved into a different understanding of the text, others need time to possibly catch up. I’ve heard well-meaning people respond to the question with words like, “Jesus is just the way for Christians; it doesn’t apply to others.” I once saw a young man, who had fairly conservative leanings, turn away after a response like that. I don’t know how he felt, but I felt that the abrupt answer was not respectful – and it ended any possible further dialogue. So again, my advice is to honor the question.

After all, it is in the Bible. We can’t (or shouldn’t) simply ignore the parts that cause us discomfort. Remember how we had toimages-1  go back and work with the so-called “anti-gay” biblical texts, looking at their contexts and digging more deeply into what the authors were trying to say? It’s the same with the seemingly exclusivist passages like John 14:6.

My second piece of advice is that if you haven’t done any biblical work with the text – and you want to know how to respond to questions about it – now’s the time to find some good resources to get up to speed. A good place to start is Diana Eck’s book, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, especially the chapter called “The Faces of God”. Within that chapter, there’s a section called “I Am the Way: Inclusive Love” which is really well done. Dr. Eck comes at the passage as a pastoral response to an anxious question.

Another nifty little book is a new one: Truth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the ‘I Am’ Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel by Yung Suk Kim. He takes a quick and easy-to-read look at John’s concept of the Logos and how it applies to the “I am” texts. The last chapter, ‘I Am’ Sayings of Jesus in Today’s  Pluralistic Life Context, really gets down to the question. I recommend these both highly.

A-Day-in-LifeI do not recommend simply handing a book to someone who asks you this question. Once you’ve come to your own conclusions, then be ready to engage questioners in conversation – not to teach ‘the right interpretation’ or convince them to change their minds, but to open up a space for exploration. You could ask questions, too. Like: in light of the whole story, what do you think Jesus was trying to convey? You could also ask if you could share your take on the story. Again, not to listen politely and then give them the ‘correct’ interpretation, but to get at the good news of the text – together.

There’s a lot of good scholarship being done on problematic texts like this one. The challenge is in getting it down to folks images-2who probably won’t ever see it. It’s up to us to convey the good news of the inclusive love of God shown to us in Jesus – even in “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to Abba God except through me.”


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